Protests generated by an American-made film that mocks the Prophet Muhammad continue to flare for a fourth day across the Middle East and North Africa. In Egypt, police in riot gear used tear gas against demonstrators hurling rocks at the U.S. embassy. The Muslim Brotherhood canceled a “million man” protest scheduled to follow Friday prayers, but protesters continued to gather, and some reportedly moved to burn an American flag. In Yemen, protesters breached a security wall and set fire to a building inside the U.S. embassy compound Thursday. Four protesters died while dozens of people were injured as security forces clashed with the demonstrators. Protests against the film have erupted in multiple other locations, including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Sudan, Tunisia, Israel and the Gaza Strip.
U.S. authorities have officially identified the key figure behind the anti-Islam film, “Innocence of Muslims,” that sparked the protests. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula is a 55-year-old Southern California resident with a checkered past involving drug convictions and bank fraud. He was sentenced to nearly two years in prison in 2010 for financial crimes and is barred from using the Internet without approval under the terms of his supervised release. He told the Associated Press he was a Coptic Christian. Meanwhile, an actress who participated in the film said actors were deceived about the nature of the video and did not realize it was anti-Islam. Instead they were given a script entitled “Desert Warriors” that was purported to be about life in ancient Egypt, but words like Muhammad and other references to Islam were dubbed over their voices after the filming.
New details have emerged about the attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three of his staff Tuesday. A senior Libyan official now says militants may have used the protests against the anti-Islam film as a cover to attack the consulate. According to the official, the attack on the embassy was the first part of a two-pronged attack timed to coincide with September 11. Militants later raided a safe house in the compound right as U.S. and Libyan security forces arrived to evacuate the staff. Libyan authorities say they have arrested four suspects.
President Obama invoked the Libya attacks during a campaign stop in Golden, Colorado, on Thursday, vowing there would be repercussions for those responsible.
President Obama: “We are going to bring those who killed our fellow Americans to justice. I want people around the world to hear me. To all those who would do us harm: No act of terror will go unpunished. They will not dim the light of the values that we proudly present to the rest of the world. No act of violence shakes the resolve of the United States of America.”
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney continues to be criticized over remarks he made attacking President Obama over his handling of the violence in Libya. A protester interrupted Romney’s speech in Fairfax, Virginia, to accuse him of “politicizing Libya.”
Mitt Romney: “But I also recognize that right now we’re in mourning. We’ve lost four of our diplomats across the world. We’re thinking about their families and those that they’ve left behind. What a tragedy — ”
Protester: “Why are you politicizing Libya?”
Mitt Romney: “— to lose such a wonderful, wonderful, uh — ”
Protester: “Why are you politicizing Libya?”
Mitt Romney: ” — wonderful people that have been so wonderful, and appreciate their service to the country.”
Crowd: “Mitt! Mitt! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Mitt Romney: “And so, I would offer a moment of silence, but one gentleman doesn’t want to be silent, so we’re going to keep — we’re going to keep on going.”
Romney supporters drowned the protester out with chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The disruption comes as Romney faces criticism for using the violence in Libya to accuse the Obama administration of sympathizing with the attackers. Romney’s criticism centered on a statement from the U.S. embassy in Cairo that was actually released before the attacks. Following the disruption Thursday, Romney went on to criticize Obama’s foreign policy and stress the importance of U.S. military power.
Mitt Romney: “As we watch the world today, sometimes it seems that we’re at the mercy of events, instead of shaping events, and a strong America is essential to shape events. And a strong America, by the way, depends on a strong military. We have to have a military — we have to have a military second to none and that’s so strong no one would ever think of testing it.”
Public school teachers in Chicago remain out of the classroom for a fifth day today amid signs they are close to a deal that would bring their historic strike to an end. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis indicated a deal was imminent, but classes could not resume until at least Monday because the union would need time to approve an end to the strike. Negotiations have centered on controversial school reforms backed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, including a proposed teacher evaluation process the union says relies too heavily on standardized testing.
Primary voters in New Hampshire were mistakenly barred from voting this week after election officials incorrectly told them they needed a photo identification. New Hampshire passed a voter ID law in June, but the law was due to be phased in in steps. Officials were supposed to ask voters for ID during this week’s primary, but IDs were not required to vote until next year. But on Tuesday, some voters without ID were turned away amidst widespread confusion, while signs posted outside polling stations incorrectly said an ID was required. In related news, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments Thursday on whether to allow that state’s controversial voter ID law to go into effect. The law could have a major impact on the election in a key battleground state.
In news from Syria, U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi arrived in the capital of Damascus Thursday as government forces attacked the outskirts of the capital in a bid to root out rebel forces. Opposition activists said helicopter gunships were firing on suburban areas. During his visit, Brahimi is expected to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as with rebels opposed to the Assad regime. Brahimi has replaced Kofi Annan, who resigned his negotiating role in Syria at the end of last month amid a diplomatic standoff over a conflict that has killed more than 20,000 people in the past 18 months. Speaking Thursday, Brahimi’s spokesperson stressed the difficulty of the mission.
Ahmad Fawzi: “The mission is really daunting, and Mr Brahimi said it, as Kofi Annan had said it before. We said it before, and we say it again, that there are countries with influence and others with interests, and we implore those influential countries that have clout over the parties to use their influence to curb the bleeding. And this first mission is of extreme seriousness, ending the bloodshed, then moving toward a political phase for negotiation on how to end this crisis.”
Pakistani authorities have registered a murder case against factory owners and government officials after a Karachi factory blaze killed nearly 300 people Tuesday in the country’s worst industrial disaster. As relatives mourned the dead Thursday, survivors said factory managers had intentionally locked the building’s main 30-foot sliding door, trapping workers, in order to save a stock of stonewashed jeans due for export to Europe. The move reportedly left hundreds of workers trapped in the blaze with just one available exit. Relatives of the victims gathered at the factory Thursday to search for the bodies of their loved ones.
Liaqat Ali: “Still, there are bodies lying inside. They are not pulling those bodies out. They are saying the building will collapse. Please, someone go and pull them out.”
Relative of Victim: “We just want our man back. I want the father of the children back. They should arrest of the owner of the factory. He should get exemplary punishment.”
Government data shows the United States is continuing its trend of extreme weather, with this summer now officially the third hottest on record for the lower 48 states. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the national average temperature from June to August was more than 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. June and August were both warmer than average, while July was the hottest month on record. Meanwhile, the United States continues to be plagued by drought, with nearly 63 percent of the contiguous United States experiencing drought conditions at the end of last month. Warm and dry conditions in the West helped fuel wildfires that consumed 3.6 million acres nationwide, more than twice the August average.
The Federal Reserve has unveiled a series of major steps aimed at bolstering the U.S. economy and reducing unemployment. The Fed announced it plans to indefinitely spend $40 billion a month to buy mortgage debt until the job market improves significantly. It also said it likely plans to keep key interest rates at record lows at least through the middle of 2015. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke outlined the steps at a news conference Thursday.
Ben Bernanke: “With inflation anticipated to run at or below our 2 percent objective, the committee has become convinced that further policy accommodation is warranted to strengthen the recovery and support the gains we have begun to see in housing and other sectors. While the economy appears to be on a path of moderate recovery, it isn’t growing fast enough to make significant progress reducing the unemployment rate. Fewer than half of the eight million jobs lost in the recession have been restored. And at 8.1 percent, the unemployment rate is nearly unchanged since the beginning of the year and is well above normal levels.”
Bank of America has agreed to a settlement over claims it violated federal law by discriminating against mortgage applicants with disabilities. The Justice Department alleged Bank of America imposed extra requirements on disabled borrowers who relied on Social Security payments, including forcing them to provide letters from doctors. Bank of America has agreed to pay amounts of up to $5,000 to eligible loan applicants.
A new report shows the billionaire casino mogul and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson stands to reap a massive tax windfall should Mitt Romney win the presidential election. According to the Center for American Progress, Romney’s policies would save Adelson more than $2 billion in taxes. The savings would come through a combination of Romney’s proposals to cut the rate for top earners, avoid or exempt foreign profits, and maintain low rates on dividends and capital gains.
Residents opposed to the New York City Police Department’s controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy rallied in New York City Thursday as part of a nationwide campaign to “Blow the Whistle” on police abuses. Protesters from Los Angeles to New York sought to draw attention to police brutality and the disproportionate targeting of people of color. Organizer Carl Dix joined dozens of other protesters in Harlem.
Carl Dix: “So, we’ll see how the police respond. They may step back and hope that we’ll stop after a while, and things can go back to normal. But we’re determined not to go back to normal, because normal is people being stepped to by the police, 1,900 times each and every day in New York City, most of them black or Latino, and almost all of them doing nothing wrong. That kind of normal has to be disrupted.”
In White Plains, New York, lawyers for the family of police shooting victim Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. appeared in court Thursday to defend a $21 million federal lawsuit. Chamberlain, a 68-year-old Marine veteran, was shot dead last year on November 19 by police officer Anthony Carelli at his White Plains home after police responded to a false alarm from his medical alert pendant. Despite Chamberlain’s insistence he was OK, police broke down his door, tasered him and shot him dead. One officer can be heard on a recording calling him a racial slur. The Chamberlain family is suing a number of defendants, including the city of White Plains and Officer Carelli. In a packed courtroom Thursday, defendants sought permission to file motions to dismiss the complaint. Chamberlain’s lawyers opposed the motion and agreed to amend the complaint. The victim’s son, Kenneth Chamberlain Jr., spoke to reporters outside the courthouse.
Kenneth Chamberlain Jr.: “As far as justice for Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. goes, I’m immovable on my stance right now. I’m going to stay here. I’m not going anywhere. There will be accountability on the part of the city of White Plains and the White Plains Police Department.”
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